John Albrecht
Bald Eagles and Bird Strikes

The repercussions of a bird strike can be sudden and incapacitating. Retired Wing Commander Syd Burrows gives vivid example in Chick Childerhose's captivating book “Wild Blue”.

On FRIDAY, September 13, 1954, Flying Officer Syd Burrows, a flight commander on 434 Fighter Squadron, was flying a Sabre 5 in a four aircraft section on a mock low level strike on their home base - Zweibrucken. Their squadron had been temporarily deployed to Baden-Soelingen pending runway repairs at Zwei. Conditions that morning were ideal sunshine and the flight was uneventful until just after the low level strike as the section was reconfiguring to battle formation. At 500 feet AGL cruising at 400 Kts, with minimal warning, Syd's aircraft struck a hawk. The canopy exploded with a blast of wind and plexiglass into his face. Blinded by blood and trauma to his left eye, he transmitted “MAYDAY” to warn his section mates. As vision gradually returned to his right eye, he suppressed the urge to eject. The funnel effect of his helmet and oxygen mask repeatedly filled his right eye socket with blood. The solution was to remove both and hunching down behind the bulletproof glass and positioning his head in the slipstream, he could redirect the blood flow away from his good eye. Fighting to maintain consciousness, he was able to formate on his wingman for the low level return leg to Baden. Fearing loss of visual contact, he carried out a non-standard right break in order to keep the runway in sight. After a slight bounce, braking to decelerate, Syd pulled off at the first intersection and shut down. First on the scene was Chief OPS Officer, Wingco Jack Allen. On clambering up on the wing and viewing the macabre scene in the cockpit, he pronounced - “Jesus Christ!”

15. F/O Syd Burrows - Blinded at 400 knots September 13, 1954. Painting by Robert Bailey.
15. F/O Syd Burrows - Blinded at 400 knots September 13, 1954. Painting by Robert Bailey.

For his resourcefulness and cool reaction under extreme conditions, Syd was awarded the Air Force Cross. His actions saved his aircraft and quite possibly his life. Plastic surgery minimized the scarring but retinal damage resulted in permanent loss of vision in his left eye. This resulted in loss of his flying status but Syd persevered accumulating 1000 dual hours in T-33's. In 1968 after a stint at Central Flying School, he regained his flying status and continued to pilot multi-engine aircraft such as the Dakota. After returning to Comox in 1983, he continued to fly as a private pilot. At age 75 he has the distinction of being Canada's oldest monocular pilot! - Quite an accomplishment after a near fatal bird strike.

16. LCOL Syd Burrows, AFC CD, RCAF SPAADS Reunion 1988 - Comox BC.
16. LCOL Syd Burrows, AFC CD, RCAF SPAADS Reunion 1988 - Comox BC.
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